A somewhat quick update

Wow, Calc II is tough. Who knew? Anyways, like I said in my last post I will probably be posting less here during the next few months. I’ve got several projects on my list right now, and it’s hard to finish projects when you’re writing about the work you’re doing on those projects… Writing about life from inside life; that’s the writer’s dilemma, I suppose. In spite of all the time lost to classes I have still been able to work on the harp a little, and I’ve made some significant progress. The tuning pins are made, although they need a little modifying, and I’ve actually started stringing the harp!

I had imagined doing all of the work on this project at home, but when I decided to use tapered tuning pegs I realized that I would have to either buy pre-made tuning pegs (the sensible choice), or machine some pegs from brass or hardwood at the shop. I did not choose the sensible option. I drilled out the holes in the harp’s end-blocks, then reamed them to a 2 degree taper. Using some scrap brass from the shop, I setup the HAAS TL-1 to cut some tapers, then drilled some holes on the bridgeport, and voila: tuning pegs! As I mentioned above the pegs need some modifying. When I drilled the hole patterns in the end-blocks I just followed the drawings from the Popular Mechanics encyclopedias. Which would have been fine if I had purchased tuning pegs. However, the material that I found (in the scrap bin) was really a little oversized for the hole pattern. As it turns out I’m having trouble turning the pegs to tune the strings. No worries, though, I think I can simply cut a slot in the ends of the pegs, and use a flathead driver to turn them. Here’s some pics of my progress:

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Tuning pegs, who knew?

So, I’m not much of an aficionado when it comes to traditional music. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s entirely appropriate for people to get enthusiastic over whatever kind of traditional music they’re into. Bluegrass, Celtic, classical, calypso, or just world music: I get it. I understand how a person could be in love with traditional music; personally, though, I just can’t get into it. What I can get into, however, is the methodology of constructing traditional instruments. Making a machine that transforms physical motion into musical notes seems to me to be an analogy of what it is to be human. Creating the universal from the specific, the beautiful from the mundane; transforming some imperfect, errant, mortal action into a sublime poetical expression of immortal beauty which can stir the soul of any man.

All of which is to say that I discovered something entirely elegant today about tuning pegs. Something that I actually felt a little silly for not already knowing: throughout most of the history of musical instruments, stringed instruments were tuned by a peg that fit into a tapered hole. The upshot of this is that the question of what type of tuning peg to use on my Aeolian harp has been decisively settled. Instead of trying to adapt one of the “machine head” type solutions found here: tricks for DIY tuning pegs, I’ll simply use a tapered reamer to drill a tapered hole in the end-block of my harp, and then carve down a tapered tuning peg to fit. Thankfully, I can borrow a tapered reamer from my work, instead of having to purchase one.

This is an example of why I think it is worthwhile to study the history of how things are made. When I originally read the article for this project I saw that the author suggested buying tuning pegs, and my mind immediately jumped to the, more modern, industrial machine head tuning pegs. Even though that is obviously not what is pictured in the article, I simply could not picture any other way of building a machine to adjust the tension on the strings of an instrument. And yet, a tapered pin is such an elegant mechanism for this project. It’s simple to build, and it’s easy and effective to use. I think this is an interesting example of the differences of mass-production and personal creation. I often find myself thinking in terms of mass-production. That is to say, when I consider how to make an object my first thought is: “how would they make this in a factory?” However, it is often the case that the objects produced by a factory are made in the way they are because those methods suit mass-production, not because mass-productions suits the objects being made. If you’re making a single chair, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to create molds, forms, and jigs for each individual piece before making any of the actual pieces. Likewise, if you’re making a single window-harp, maybe you should consider using taper tuning-pegs.

One step forward, two steps back.

pm010So, thanks to my mother-in-law’s willingness to babysit, I was able to make some progress on my “window harp” project this week. I finished the body of the harp; now I just need to add the bridges, tuning pegs, and strings – as well as cut the top cover. I did run into some minor issues, though. For one, the hardboard I’m using is quite a bit more flexible than the plywood recommended by the original article; this led to quite a bit of bowing in the sides of the body. I thought that I should be able to correct this easily enough by gluing in a couple of spacers to hold the sides parallel. I was right to think so, but I was not very careful when I cut said spacers, which lead to the second issue: the sides of the body are bowed. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to fix this, but I’m not terribly worried about it. Honestly, I think it’s mostly a cosmetic issue and, if I’m unable to figure out a way to easily fix it, I’ll probably just use some wood putty to make it look straight.

I’ve attached a few pictures of the process below. The first shows all the parts of the body, the next two just show various stages of clamping.

P.S. I need to thank my wonderful wife for actually going out and finding some nylon guitar strings for me to use on this project. Also I need to thank her for just plain being awesome. Thanks, Hon!

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“Build an ancient window harp”

pm001I had hoped to have my first project completed by this weekend. My work schedule has been pretty heavy, though, so I wasn’t able to spend much time working on this. I think that this “ancient window harp” could more correctly be called an aeolian harp (don’t worry, that link has nothing to do with desserts…) If you’re curious, it’s pretty easy to find some interesting information concerning the history of aeolian harps. For a more concise intro, I present the following: These instruments have a place in some very old literature; it’s recorded in the Bible that King David hung one of these above his bed. There was a resurgence in the popularity of these instruments in 19th century England. Hence the quote from Coleridge in my last post.

The harp is very simple, essentially a box with guitar strings strung over the top. The plans call for 1/8″ plywood for the sides, and 1-1/2″ hardwood blocks for the end. Being a miserly old man, I decided to use what I had on hand instead: 1/8″ hardboard and some MDF scraps. I did have a short piece of 1/8″ plywood, but since it’s not enough to make the whole box I’m not sure if I’ll use it. The pictures below show what I have completed so far. Which is to say, not much. I have the end blocks and the base of the box cut.

As you can see I don’t have the most tricked out shop, so in come cases there’s a little extra work for me to get some parts right. For instance one of the end blocks came out to a larger angle than the other. It was close enough that I was able to smooth it down with a plane and some sandpaper, but I spent as much time doing that as I did cutting out both blocks to begin with. Hopefully it shouldn’t take too long to get the rest of the pieces cut and glued together. After that I’ll just need to pick up some guitar strings, and small eye-bolts to use as tuning machines. Hopefully I’ll have this somewhat complete by next weekend.pm005 pm004pm003 pm002